The National Veterans Wheelchair Games are not about athletes with disabilities, the head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday.
“The games are all about heart,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said at the games’ kickoff ceremony. “There are no disabilities in these games. It’s about living life differently.”
The games include U.S. veterans of every conflict since World War II, plus veterans from Great Britain and South Korea, he said. It’s real competition, not a “walk-away contest,” and a chance to show that despite their injuries they are “a part of our landscape and doing well.”
A dozen or so of the wheelchair athletes staged a basketball competition in the breezeway of the Convention Center. About halfway through they invited members of the news media and local government and military leaders to join them on the court, in wheelchairs.
When it came time to shoot, the dignitaries mostly missed, despite being fed the ball and not being blocked.
“Air ball,” the crowd chanted as the shots went up and came down, often nowhere near the hoop.
More than 600 athletes will compete in games all over town, from Whitworth University and Spokane Falls Community College to the Spokane Valley Gun Club and the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. City Council President Joe Shogan declared “Let the games begin” at the rain-dampened kickoff before participating in the basketball game.
“Your dedication, your athleticism is something to be admired,” Shogan said, encouraging the athletes to see and do as much as possible in Spokane before the games end Saturday. “We have good weather – tomorrow.”